Warrior McCaw an inspiration
Auckland - No one more typifies the All Blacks' insatiable hunger for an elusive Rugby World Cup crown than inspirational skipper Richie McCaw.
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The openside flank has carried a right foot injury through the demanding six-week tournament, but has been there when it really counted for the All Blacks.
McCaw, the three-times world player of the year - no one else has won it more than once - is treated with almost divine reverence in his rugby-obsessed homeland, where the media refer to him as "Captain Fantastic".
The 30-year-old became the first All Black to play 100 Tests and was presented with a special cap to mark the occasion in the pool stage victory over France, the hosts' opponents in Sunday's World Cup final at Eden Park.
"Every single minute I have played in the jersey for the All Blacks, huge memories. I love it just as much today as I did the first time I put the jersey on," he told the home crowd, as they chanted "Richie, Richie.", following his 100th Test.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry describes McCaw as not only an inspiration to his team but also to his country.
"He's a special player, a special man and inspirational to the country, not only inspirational to this rugby team but an inspiration to New Zealanders," Henry said.
"His steel, his bravery, his ability to lead from the front and by example, the respect the players have for him."
McCaw has become renowned for a tireless work rate, using his size and strength in punishing tackles and possessing an uncanny ability to win turnover ball. He is the benchmark for number sevens in world rugby.
McCaw has lost only 12 of his 102 Tests with New Zealand, and only eight of those as his country's skipper since 2006.
It has been a challenging and painful tournament for the unpretentious McCaw, sitting out training to preserve his injured foot through to game day and giving his all for his country.
That was no more evident than when he delivered masterclass in the art of the 'jackal in the tackle' to rival flanker David Pocock as New Zealand overwhelmed Australia 20-6 to reach the World Cup final.
McCaw showed no sign of the foot injury dating back to surgery for a stress fracture at the start of the year as he bossed the breakdown and Pocock with it.
"He has trained very little and where some other people might push it and not play, he's not pushing it so he can play," Henry observed.
And driving McCaw on is the painful memory of New Zealand's quarter-final loss to France four years ago, when he was also leading the team.
McCaw was inconsolable after the shattering defeat in Cardiff and like other members of the scarred All Blacks team received grief counselling.
But now the All Blacks are within 80 minutes of redemption to claim their long overdue second Webb Ellis Cup and get back one back on France, the team they beat in the 1987 final, also at Eden Park.
As New Zealand's rugby royalty, McCaw's lifestyle regularly fills the country's society pages but always with reference to how the modest leader puts the nation and his sport first.
He turned down an invitation to this year's wedding of Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton saying he wanted to focus on the Super 15 rugby competition.
He also rejected lucrative offers to play for European clubs saying he would rather play in New Zealand.
And he was the determined frontman for television commercials inspiring people in Christchurch following the devastating earthquakes which wrecked his home city this year.
McCaw recently extended his contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union, which will take him through to the next World Cup in 2015 and, barring injury, he'll threaten the world record for Tests of 139 held by Australian George Gregan.
* RWC final odds on BET.CO.ZA: New Zealand vs France